Black, White, Other Flashback: Larene LaSonde

Here’s an excerpt from Larene LaSonde’s original interview in Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity, first published in 1994 (and now available in a 20th anniversary expanded ebook edition):

Larene LaSonde, circa 1992

“I choose to call myself mulatto. Why? There’s passion in it, and you know what my politics are immediately. And if I say it in public, people know that I am prepared to defend the position.

The first time I heard the term used in something other than a negative way was when I got married to my second husband. He called me mulatto, and it wasn’t patronizing. He found a poster of a woman, and it said “Octaroon” over the top. He had it beautifully framed and gave it to me.

I had accumulated hundreds of black history books over the years, and so I started to review them and find the mulatto, find out where she came from. I spent the next five years doing that self-imposed study, and as I discovered her—and him, but particularly her, for me—I realized that the term mulatto had been given a bad rap, that there were places in society where a mulatto actually had a structured presence, a relationship to the community, a relationship to government.

Leon Higginbotham [a senior circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, and a law professor] writes about the laws regarding interracial marriages and the first interracial child, how the tone and tenor changed so that there was a time when white fathers actually identified with their children. Then it became impractical, since you’re in the business of selling bodies. You can’t afford to give any preference to any one body, even if it’s your own flesh. A mulatto has a right to their white parentage, and I can see there’s been a bad rap given mulatto children who actually wanted to know their fathers and the benefits of training under their fathers. They come into the world with whatever DNA that comes from their father. Why should they not have a right to it? But when you see the writings, it was presumed that they were striving for something beyond themselves.

As I started to read that, I got mad, and my study became more intense and I took it further. I started writing about what I was feeling, and I got some pieces included in small publications. I wanted to start developing a body of research towards a book, because there’s not the research that would give us any statistics that are really usable. Then I hit on this issue of us really being invisible people. We are Ralph Ellison’s invisible man.”

Expect Larene’s 20-year update to be posted in the very near future. Meanwhile, you can read the rest of her oral history in the ebook.